Expecting mothers are seen as less competent and more irrational than their peers.
This summer while enormously pregnant with twins I stepped into a meeting with a business executive with whom I had previously corresponded by email.
"Oh, wow," he said, clearly taken aback by my belly. "No one told me you were pregnant."
I paused and smiled, since it was not a condition about which I ever intended to warn people. But it started me thinking—is there a penalty for being pregnant? And even more permanently, would people start to see me as a parent first and a professional second in ways my husband never would be? The answer, according to research published in Harvard Business Review, is "yes."
A recent issue of the magazine reported on an experiment in which
people were asked to imagine that they were McKinsey & Company clients, evaluating consultants on the basis of several profiles. One of the profiles varied two factors: gender and whether the candidate had a child. When identified as a mother as opposed to a father or a woman or man whose parental status wasn't mentioned, the consultant was judged to be significantly less competent and was least likely to be hired or promoted by the participants. The mere mention of a child led people to see the mother as less competent, and this perception did her in.
In other words, bearing children means others view you as less able to bear your workload. And makes them think about lots of other things other than the work that you are ostensibly at work to do. Women wrestle with how much to talk about their children and whether or not to mention that they are leaving work to deal with such domestic duties as picking up children or getting home to feed them dinner. Now it is clear to me that there is a reason why such conversations should remain hidden: They cost money.